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Boot freeze @ "Kernel Freeing Memory"

I have this weird problem - the kernel freezes on reboots at "Kernel
Freeing Memory" BUT continues on if someone at the console taps the
enter key a few times.  Anyone know what that's all about?

I did some searches on the issue and have come across scant information,
though they all seem to point to a bad kernel compile.  In that vein, I
am in the process of building a new kernel (with make-kpkg) though it
took me a few days because the server went down, I was unavailable to be
there physically, and it got stuck in the boot cycle at "Kernel Freeing
Memory".  Might it also be related to a bad hard drive?  Far fetched,
but it's something that was a problem up until recently when we took it

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